4 Things We Can Learn From Monks

Since lock down started the clocks have moved forward to British summer time and we’ve welcomed some much sunnier weather. Well, in between all the thunderstorms that seem to be happening at the moment anyway. It feels like Summer is finally in the (muggy) air, and this time of year is often linked to fresh starts.

I think I’ve seen just about all of my friends clearing out their wardrobes or tidying up their cupboards on their Instagram stories. I’ve joined in on this too. It’s like the combination of lock down and it suddenly being Summer means we want to clean and sort everything!

We’re obviously no stranger to giving our physical space a spring clean, but what about our mental head space?

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I find that being reflective can often help me gain a new perspective on situations in my life, or those going on around me – a perspective that benefits me more mentally.

However, I’m also mindful not to let these reflections lead me into the negative self talk that I know I’m capable of. Without conscious effort otherwise, our brains will always latch on to the negative rather than the positive.

I read an article recently about a former Monk. I was really interested in how his studies influenced his approach to life now – in particular how to create purpose, reach his potential, and find inner peace.

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It got me thinking that this approach could be really good for our well-being; by taking the time to think about our passions and strengths it can actually mean having more of them in our life. For this, Monks believe that there are 4 areas for us to consider:

What are you good at, but don’t love?

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Unfortunately this can often describe someone’s job. This doesn’t mean you should automatically leave it though.

Think if there are ways that you could learn to love what your strengths actually bring you. Or, is there an aspect of your job that you love and could work towards doing more of?

To be honest, I don’t enjoy all the elements of my job, but (when I can go back) I plan on cultivating more of what I do enjoy and seeing how it can be incorporated into my other responsibilities.

What are you not good at, but love?

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This is a tricky one to admit, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t get better at whatever this is. You could use coaching or online courses to help you improve.

For example, although I knew what I wanted to achieve with this blog, I didn’t necessarily know how to get there. Not on my own anyway, so I joined the Grow & Glow Community.

I’ve been learning from the great resources they have, and the other members are really supportive too. I wasn’t going to let my lack of initial knowledge hold me back! (side note – if you’re a creative or blogger, and want to build a personal brand, I definitely recommend that you join – it’s well worth the membership)

What are you not good at, and don’t love?

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Hopefully it’s obvious that these are the kind of tasks that you should be spending the least amount of your time and energy on as they don’t give you anything back in return. More than likely they will be the daily chores in life that grind us down.

Things like keeping track of your monthly budget, or doing the ironing. Think about if a friend or your partner could help you with them. (if it’s something they enjoy) Or, could you invest in a tool or app that will make them easier to deal with? If you have the money, you could also out-source the task to some one else completely.

What are you good at, and love?

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This is ideally how we all want to be living day to day – spending time on our talents and doing the things that we love.

For me, it’s been finding that extra little bit of time each day to write, read, and dance about to my favourite tunes!

On reflection, what do you plan on adding more of into your life? Or trying to eliminate completely? I’d be really interested to hear, so lets have a chat about this in the comments.

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You may also like: A Beginners Guide to Meditation

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A Beginners Guide to Meditation

I’ll be honest, before I really understood what meditation was, I thought it was a bit woo woo. I thought that to do it you would have to light incense, sit on a special cushion, and start chanting.

That can be part of it if you want it to, but really isn’t what it’s all about. My first impressions couldn’t have been more wrong.

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What is Meditation?

I think Headspace (more on them later) describe what meditation is perfectly:

Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgement. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.

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My Experience

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’m divorced. [read Everything I’ve Learnt From Getting Divorced here] I was first introduced to meditation when the relationship with my ex was falling apart and my mental health was starting to suffer as a result. I definitely needed a healthy sense of perspective.

My friend recommended an app to me (more on those in a sec) at the time, and suggested that I give guided meditations a try.

I knew that I needed to get a handle on my thoughts, so it giving it a try seemed worth a shot. I struggled with the guided meditations initially though – maybe it was the voices on the app that I was using that I just couldn’t get on board with, or that I was finding it hard to let go into it, I don’t know.

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After that first introduction I’ve then dipped in and out of meditation over the years when I’ve felt I’ve needed it. (which I know isn’t how you’re meant to approach these things)

When lock down started, I knew that meditation needed to be a solid part of my daily routine again. In the first few weeks I found just focusing on my breathing really helped.

That was working fine for a while, but at the start of last week, I felt like I needed to get back into meditation ‘properly’. As well as the mental exhaustion that comes from navigating lock down, I now have the possibility of redundancy thrown into the mix.

I’ve just finished a guided meditation series to help with the anxiety I’ve been feeling, and it’s really helping. Some days it’s easier than others to get in to, but the clarity of mind that comes afterwards is like a fog being lifted.

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What Are The Benefits?

Many people, myself included, start meditation for reducing stress and anxiety and cultivating a more peaceful state of mind.

There’s further benefits though that aren’t quite so obvious. Such as growing a greater sense of compassion, awareness, clarity, focus, and increased mental resilience. All, I think are extremely underrated, but deeply needed in our current society.

I’ve certainly been feeling the effects of the less obvious benefits, and once you get over the mental hurdle required to start any new habit, the results are definitely worth it.

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Where To Start

Find a time of day that works for you

There’s no use meditating at night if you’re just going to fall asleep 2 minutes after closing your eyes. Equally, there’s no point doing it in the morning if you’re rushing around trying to get sorted for the day.

It doesn’t matter what time it is, just so long as you will have the mental capacity to focus for 5-10 minutes

Designate a quiet spot

Ear mark a quiet corner in your house or flat that’s comfortable and you know you won’t get disturbed. Hopefully you’ll have already picked a time of day that means you’re less likely to be interrupted any way. (one thing that used to stop me from meditating was paranoia that my flat mate would walk in!)

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Let go

This is often easier said than done, but in my experience, completely letting go into either guided meditation you’re listening to, or focusing on your breathing, is likely to be the only way you’ll feel like meditation is ‘working’.

If you feel yourself getting frustrated, or like you’re fighting the thoughts that you have, rather than just observing them, try to loosen your grip. This takes patience and practice, (trust me!) but it’s worth persevering for the benefits that I mentioned earlier.

Top Apps To Use

The two apps I hear about most in relation to meditation are Headspace and Calm. Both have similar offerings, so it’s really down to personal preference.

Both also include free trial periods. However, I would recommend making the investment in yourself and paying so that you can access the full library of resources that both of them provide. Such as meditation series for relieving stress, anxiety, mindfulness in daily life, improving self esteem, and feeling more peaceful.

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Calm even has a series based on the Winnie-the-Pooh characters. As I discussed in my very first blog post, the characters relate to common mental health issues, and each character has their own dedicated meditation.

I personally use Calm because I prefer the voices they use for the guided meditations, that, and their sleep stories. Narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry, Matthew McConaughey and Leona Lewis, 9 times out of 10 they send me drifting off to sleep quickly and easily – so much so that I have know idea how any of the stories end!

Have you given meditation a try? If not, what’s holding you back?

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You may also like: Aromatherapy: 3 Smells That Will Bring You a Scent of Calm

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Aromatherapy: 3 Smells That Will Bring You a Scent of Calm

With the future still looking so uncertain, I find myself (and I don’t think I’m the only one here) looking for more and more ways to calm the anxiety, which even though it ebbs and flows, I am still very aware of being part of my life.

There are a multitude of ways we all have the power to reach an inner sense of calm – more of which I’m sure I’ll explore with you in future blog posts. After reading a paragraph from Calm by Fearne Cotton, I was inspired by the idea of us tuning into one of our senses to bring about a feeling of calm.

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Are there smells that makes you feel happy? Remind you of a great holiday? Make you feel comforted? Certain scents have a way of making us feel happier and uplifted.

This is because the part of the brain that manages our emotions and memories is stimulated. This then produces the response of ‘feel good’ chemicals being released, which in turn lifts our mood.

It got me thinking exactly what my go-to uplifting scents are….

Body Lotion

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Not just any old body lotion though, it has to be Nivea. This is because when I was a young child I used to watch my Mum get out of the shower and apply body lotion. You guessed it, that body lotion was Nivea. The smell of it instantly takes me back to a time when a big hug from my Mum was all I needed to feel safe in the world.

Sun Cream

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I like the smell of pretty much every sun cream, but the one that sparks the most joy is Nivea. (this post is not an ad for Nivea, but clearly my house as a child was filled with the stuff)

It reminds me of fun family holidays dipping in and out of pools and building sandcastles on beaches. Then, in my teenage years, even more fun filled holidays with my girls. For me, it’s the nostalgic smell of being absolutely care free.

Mediterranean Summer

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To be specific, just one Mediterranean country – Portugal. I was lucky enough to spend the majority of my childhood summers going on holiday to The Algarve.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, I remember a distinct smell hitting me – a combination of native plants and heat that’s almost indescribable. It was the background to so many happy memories I have of those summers. When I smell it I immediately have the feeling that I’m at home.

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I have already started to incorporate some of these smells into my weekly routine so that I can get the uplifting hit and sense of calm that my body craves.

Every time I have a bath, I slather myself in Nivea lotion when I get out. Now that the weather actually feels like summer, I’ve been applying sun cream more regularly (you can guess the brand) before I head out on my walks in the sunshine.

Obviously getting that Mediterranean summer smell will be a little tricker considering travelling abroad is off the cards, but for now I’ll be content with making the most of the sunny days the UK has to offer – at a safe social distance of course.

Aromatherapy

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Another way that we can bring the calming power of smell into our days is through Aromatherapy. I’m not going to lie, I did have to Google exactly what aromatherapy was before I started writing this post, but here goes…

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being. Basically it’s the use of essential oils to improve mental and physical health. Sounds (or should I say smells lol) pretty good to me!

Essential oils apparently work best when you inhale them or they’re absorbed into the skin. So you can add a few drops to your bath, massage into your temples, or use in hot water for a facial steam. There’s lots of aromatherapy products like candles and diffusers infused with essential oils available too.

Here are the top 3 scents for promoting calm:

Lavender

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Lavender is thought to calm anxiety by impacting the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions, and is probably the most famous smell for being calming.

There are so many companies that offer lavender essential oil pillow sprays for that reason, [like this one from The Body Shop] and it’s something I’m keen to invest in too, as my sleep has been a little all over the place during lock down – as I’m guessing yours has too.

Citrus

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This smell has been linked to stress relief and a Brazilian study showed that those inhaling a sweet orange essential oil scent found that their anxiety symptoms improved.

I have an aura spray (basically a room spray) that includes a citrus smell, and I spray it just before I get in the bath. It definitely has a soothing affect whilst I soak.

Frankincense

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Probably better known for being one of the gifts from the three wise men, it does actually have therapeutic and healing properties. It’s benefits include relief from stress and anxiety and reduction of inflammation.

This is one that I’ve seen included in candle scents before, so I know it smells gorgeous, and after I’ve sorted out my pillow spray, will be next on my list to invest in.

What are your favourite uplifting smells and why? And do you use essential oils? If so, which ones? I’d love to hear – so share in the comments.

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You may also like: How to Keep Calm in Uncertain Times

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